13 July 2012 By Billy Hawkins
It is one of those invites that excites you - press launch of the Alitex greenhouse and the walled garden at Fulham Palace. The weather was dubious but it didn’t dampen our sprits or the look of the garden which we managed to explore before the presentations.
The last visit we had to the palace the greenhouse was empty which made it feel a bit sad and lonely, but happily Head Gardner Lucy has now filled it with tomatoes, peppers and an array of donated plants in the lobby. The knot garden has been restored to its former glory using the colour theme of the Bishop’s coat of arms, utilising modern planting.
Nelly Hall (Alitex) was invited to speak and explained that the restoration of the garden started with the Alitex greenhouse. Nelly talked us through this journey and the excitement involved even though Alitex have been building greenhouses for nearly 60 years. It started 2 1/2 years ago with the then Director of Fulham Palace Dr Scott Cooper with a project of significant historical horticultural significance – the replacement of the original pinery-vinery (I know! Ask Nelly – an explanation blog coming soon) from the 1850’s.
Aluminium versus Timber
The Aluminium versus timber debate was a consideration with local planners, the local authority, English heritage and the Palace – the team deciding when on a road trip viewing structures that Alitex had replicated in aluminium, specifically, The Terrace Richmond and a private estate in Buckinghamshire who had despaired over the money and time spent maintaining their greenhouses rather than growing. Eventually Alitex replaced all 8 glasshouse at the estate including Pitt Houses, Cherry Houses and a mono-pitched glass house.
The evidence of our work and the scale of our projects secured the brief, which was to replace the existing structure using exactly the same footprint of which nothing could be salvaged. After consultation with industry experts including Susan Campbell from the Walled Kitchen Garden Network, the only amendment to the design of the existing structure would be to create a central lobby with double doors providing a useable entertaining space - vital for this greenhouse being in a public space.
The challenge – the wall! You may have spotted the curves, you may not have spotted the bulges and bumps throughout. The design took 6 months of refinement to achieve the right look, whilst building in more structural integrity to the glasshouse instead of relying on the rear wall.
It was a feat of engineering, and patience, but completed on time and on budget.
Phil Emery is one of the trustees of the Fulham Palace and as an archaeologist – the 1972 first excavation with Keith Whitehouse and archaeology which has informed the future of the scheduled monument. English Heritage is key to the process in the latest project Fulham Palace “Community Archaeology Dig” where everyone of any age or experience can get involved and join. Finds have included Victorian Tin plant labels, a manufactures badge from George Kent, a hops token, a lead toy horse, lots of buttons from various workers in the garden including a girl guide badge. We learned of the bee bowls in the north west face of the Tudor wall; niches to protect the hive and bees from the weather. Honey was very important being an important ingrediant in mead! Future plans include reintroducing bees to the garden.
Andrew Gosling at Food Show invited us to enjoy the afternoon tea they laid out...the broad bean bruschetta and macaroons being the Alitex favourites!
We would like to thank Fulham Palace for inviting us to their press opening – we don’t always get included and we love nothing more than seeing one of our greenhouses being used with such care and consideration – we’ll be back soon to let you know how Lucy and her team are getting on.
Click here for more details on visiting Fulham Palace Gardens and their Alitex Greenhouse - a really great day out with a real sense of community.